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The Most Extreme Golf Hazards


St. Andrews, Scotland. Seventeenth hole, par four, 455 yards. Architect: Nature, 15th century.
The Road Bunker on the seventeenth at the Old Course in St. Andrews is a six-foot-deep pot, its face almost vertical, that eats into the left side of the tabletop green. It forces a too-safe approach off to the right and possibly onto the paved road or against the wall (where Tom Watson found his ball during his unsuccessful pursuit of Seve Ballesteros in the 1984 Open Championship). It devours the approach that is hit the merest shade left (Costantino Rocca’s double bogey here in the 1995 Open playoff with John Daly). And it even swallows putts—witness the contending Tommy Nakajima’s long lag in the 1978 Open that transformed a four into a nine and prompted a witty nickname for this implacable hazard: "The Sands of Nakajima."


Black Rock, Australia. Par four, 305 yards. Architects: Alister MacKenzie and Alex Russell, 1926.
The tenth hole at Royal Melbourne Golf Club’s West course traverses a valley early on, then bends left. In the crook of the dogleg awaits an immense—indeed, a cavernous—bunker that reaches to within forty yards of the green. Carry it on your tee shot and you may putt for eagle. Fail and you’ll wonder whether even that glittering reward was worth the risk. The genius of Alister MacKenzie and Alex Russell’s work, though, is that the safe route to the right becomes progressively more difficult the more one plays short and away from the vast sand pit. Even with modern technology at our disposal, the options remain as compelling as the day the hole was built.


Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. Par three, 132 yards. Architect: Pete Dye, 1981.
When the TPC Sawgrass Stadium course opened in 1981, some Tour players were horrified by the island-green seventeenth. One pro (who shall remain nameless) described it as a "ridiculous piece of s_ _t, reminiscent of some putt-putt carnival course." But like a song or novel a generation ahead of its time, the initial shock has gradually given way to respect, even admiration. By now it is undoubtedly one of the most copied holes in the history of modern golf. That is not to say today’s players don’t still dread the prospect of it, not simply when they arrive on the seventeenth tee but when they pull into the parking lot hours earlier. And don’t blame it all on Pete Dye: It was his wife, Alice, who said an island green was called for here. Marion Hollins would have applauded.


Brancaster, England. Par five, 494 yards. Architect: Horace Hutchinson, 1892.
Out on the East Anglian coast in the village of Brancaster, some three hours from London (but worth any journey to reach it), lies Royal West Norfolk Golf Club. The most memorable hazard on this old-fashioned and supremely natural eighteen is a saltwater marsh, through which the par-five eighth hole is routed. A heroic hole brilliantly suited to match play, the tee, fairway and green are all islands when the tide is in, and the golfer must play gingerly from one safe harbor to the next. This same tidal flooding can also cut off access to the clubhouse for up to three hours. No wonder members find a tiny booklet called Hull Tide Tables indispensable.


Campbeltown, Scotland. Par four, 428 yards. Architect: Old Tom Morris, 1876.
The opening hole tantalizes at the remote links of Machrihanish Golf Club, on Scotland’s Kintyre Peninsula. A platform tee, tight beside the curving golden beach, is elevated about twenty feet above it. Our drive is fired on the diagonal across the often frothing combers of the Atlantic to gain an undulating fairway along the shoreline. The problem is simple: How much of the world’s second-largest water hazard dare we bite off on our very first swing of the round?This is an intriguing business. But if our swing is sound and the ball is seen to bound along the distant fairway, then, breathing a sigh of relief, we are off in high spirits for what might well be the round of a lifetime.


Sandwich, England. Par five, 497 yards. Architect: W.L. Purves, 1887; revisions by Alister MacKenzie and J.J.F. Pennink.
A veritable mountain of dune on the fourth at Royal St. George’s Golf Club hosts the most terrifying pits ever to confront contestants in a national championship: One is nearly thirty feet high. In the most recent of the thirteen Open Championships held here, the 2003 event, no contender—significantly—came to grief in this sandy pyramid. Not so in the 1979 English Amateur. On the fourth extra hole of his quarterfinal match, Reg Glading half-buried his drive at the top. He inched his way up, settled in and swung. The sand shifted under him; he and the club and the ball tumbled ingloriously down the slope to finish in a heap at the bottom. Sudden death, indeed.


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